The Orthodox Parish of
& St Chad,
Extracts from Parish Newsletter, March 2008
FATHER DAVID’S LETTER:
GREAT LENT, 2008
During this Holy Season we think of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Despite our best efforts and good intentions we have slipped back yet again. Our over-riding desire for self-determination, our falling back into familiar patterns of behaviour (part of our survival kit developed over the years) and the ease with which we have turned yet again from God and the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ may alarm us. Yet again we have become the prodigal son and the prodigal daughter; so like the Pharisee, so unlike the publican, not yet the penitent thief.
Once again we need to turn back to God in prayer, to be reunited with Him, to be restored. Prayer helps us again to put God first in our lives, to restore a balance to ensure that we are not only driven by selfish passions, worldly cares and the demands of others.
Fasting also enables this. It reminds us that life is more food and raiment. Slight hunger enables us to know that the body is there to serve us and we are to be its master rather than its slave. A lightened body promotes a spiritual awareness, a lightening of the soul, and a greater awareness of God's presence in the fabric and intimacy of our daily lives.
Almsgiving should lead to thankfulness that we have enough and to spare, and make us aware of our fellow men and women in need and in distress. It is there to keep us mindful that we are not isolated and alone but that we live in communion with others and so within the Law of Christ: ‘In so far as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me’. (Matthew 25).
These activities, including prayer, fasting, almsgiving, time for God, a life in balance, and concern for others, are at the heart of our Lenten discipline, but we should also add something else. This is something which is of especial importance in these times: respect for nature, the environment, and the world of nature in which we live. Part of God's blessing is through His gift to us of the wonders of creation. Through the amazing world which He has created: the Earth, rich and plentiful, the Sun and all the elements, the seasons of the year and their fruits and pleasures, we are indeed blessed.
Our very life depends on them; indeed so does our salvation. Nature has always co-operated with God in His saving acts. Was it not the sea
which opened up, allowing the Israelites to escape from the hands of Pharaoh who had enslaved them and his pursuing armies? Then there was water which burst forth from the rock in the wilderness when Moses struck it with his staff. The Jordan also turned back to allow Joshua (the name, which is another form of ‘Jesus’, means ‘Messiah’) to lead the Children of Israel into the Promised Land.
Thus, it is no surprise that Our Lord, in His baptism in the Jordan, blessed and redeemed creation first. By going down into the waters of the Jordan at the heart of Israel's life, He blessed it and cleansed it. He drove all evil from it and restored it to its Creator. Once the water of the Jordan was pure and free again, so could men and women be pure and free. Once creation is restored, there is a restored, nourishing environment in which man and woman can be redeemed. Adam and Eve, at the beginning, were placed in the Garden of Eden, a land of plenty, beautiful, unexploited, generous— and they lost it.
Now Eden is to be restored to those whom Christ has redeemed. Adam and Eve were to ‘fill the land and subdue it’ (Genesis 1: 28), but also to be attentive to it and to respect it. We are to be attentive to it and to restore it. This is an act of obedience if we are truly the children of God. Obedience means to be submissive to the will of another; it means we have to listen to that person to really hear what he is saying, to listen to God and to listen to each other, but also to listen to creation.
Hear the Earth! Listen to its cries of agony, its distortion due to exploitation, its consequent failure in many parts of the world to provide for mankind, which it was given to serve, its despair.
St Paul, in his letter to the Romans describes God’s intention that ‘the whole creation itself might be freed from its slavery to corruption and brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God’, for, ‘We are aware that the whole creation, until this time, has been groaning in labour pains’ (Romans 8: 21-22), waiting for this to happen. It is waiting for the sons and daughters of God to be revealed and for them to be attentive.
So, dear brothers and sisters, I commend to you this Great Lent. May it be a time of great blessing to all, to ourselves, to others to the whole of creation and with glory to God.
Ellen Ivas, of blessed memory, copied the following poem in the weeks before her falling asleep. She also translated the poem into Russian and left both versions, written in her neat and careful hand, for her husband Lew and her daughters, Lucy and Jenny. It seemed as if she knew that her life on earth was soon to be at an end.
Shapeless and grim
A shadow dim
O’erhung the ways,
And darkened all my days.
And all who saw,
With bated breath,
Said, ‘It is death!’
And I, in weakness
Slipping towards the Night,
In sore affright
Looked up. And lo!—
No Spectre grim,
But just a dim
A Sweet high mother-face,
A face like Christ’s own Mother’s face,
Alight with tenderness
‘Thou art not Death!’ I cried;--
For Life’s supremest fantasy
Had never thus envisaged Death to me;-
‘Thou art not Death, the End!’
In accent winning,
Came the answer,-- ‘Friend,
There is no Death!
I am the Beginning,
-- Not the End!’
A Joyful Weekend in York
On Saturday 26- Sunday 27 January, Bishop Basil visited York for a very special occasion. Fr Stephen Robson, who for nine years had been a bishop in the Celtic Orthodox Church, associated with Metropolitan Mael of Brittany, surrendered his episcopacy and was received into the Archdiocese of Western Europe, Episcopal Vicariate in Great Britain, by Bishop Basil. On Saturday morning, he served the Liturgy of St James for the last time as bishop, and in a very moving gesture at the time of the Cherubic Hymn, he took off his omophor and gave to Bishop Basil. At the end of the Liturgy he took off his panagia. The St James Liturgy is a very beautiful early liturgy which is scarcely familiar to us, although it is often served in the Feast of St James, the Brother of the Lord, in October. It probably provides a link from early times with the Western Rite Liturgy. Especially memorable is the response, ‘Remember me O Lord’, whilst the priest is chanting the long intercession.
In the afternoon, Fr Stephen and six others with him were received and chrismated by Bishop Basil, assisted by Fr David. After this, Bishop Basil and Fr Timothy Curtis served Great Vespers. Elizabeth, a newly received young student of music and member of Fr Stephen’s congregation, sang in the choir with Fr David.
In the evening, Aaron, a professional chef and also a member of the congregation, cooked and served a delicious and beautifully prepared supper for Bishop Basil, Fr David, and members of the resident community.
Sunday seemed a very special day. On the New Calendar there were many important saints to celebrate, including Sts John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Isaac the Syrian, Ephraim the Syrian, and Ignatius of Antioch. In addition to this, it was ‘homelessness’ Sunday, of particular significance to Fr Stephen and St Anne’s House where there is special and sacrificial outreach to the homeless, those whose lives are broken by drugs and alcohol, those in prison, and indeed any who come to the door for help. St Anne’s House is near to Monksgate and the city wall. Its location in Brownlow Street, and under the patronage of St Anne, has over the years become a place of sanctuary for many. Fr Stephen has a particular devotion to St Anne whom he regards as a very caring and benevolent ‘Grandmother’.
Bishop Basil remarked how he had found the chapel to be indeed as Our Lord desired: ‘My House shall be a house of prayer’. He also said that he had experienced the liturgical events celebrated to have been deeply spiritual. The chrismation, Vespers, and the Divine Liturgies of both St James and St John Chrysostom had echoed the joy of heaven and had inspired all present and brought them closer to God. Indeed, for several it had been experienced as an emotional and joyful occasion marked with tears.
It was encouraging for all that Fr Stephen received a letter of good wishes and offer of support from Fr Elwin, the resident Orthodox priest in York in the Patriarchate of Antioch. Metropolitan Kallistos also expressed his good wishes. The weekend was a time of blessing, reconciliation, and the unification of Christendom.